Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Garden Report #30

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

This photo is a wonderful screen saver-Tulips in my back garden

• Writer’s write: It is Sunday afternoon, Boxing Day. The two extended family suppers are finished. I am well fed. All three of the boys are home, except now they are men. Two are taller than me. All three say they are smarter. I don’t argue. Christmas is one of those holidays that I pick and choose what is important to me. The tree, the poinsettias, the fruit cake, the cabbage rolls are all traditions that I keep because I value them. I got to sit with my mother for a Christmas meal, realizing that very few of my friends still have their mothers with us. The family and the friends gathering around the hot apple cider are the essence of the season, almost a Norman Rockwell picture. These are the scenes that I choose to paint in my memory. Change gears: One thing that has always bothered me is the feeding frenzy of gift opening. I have never grasped the concept. I can only wear one shirt at a time and I am left wondering, how much ‘stuff’ do I need? George Carlin did a poignant bit about ‘stuff’ and how we accumulate so much ‘stuff’ that we need houses to store our ‘stuff’ and then locks on the doors to ensure no one steals our ‘stuff’. I have never understood why someone would line up at four a.m. on Boxing Day, so they can get the best price on some more ‘stuff’. I have never gone to a Boxing Day sale, and my plan is to never go. I don’t understand the concept of pushing and shoving and arguing with store staff and other customers over who saw something first. As I watch those scenes repeated every year on the television news, I have a sense of revulsion. These scenes are the worst of our culture, not our finest moments. Where is the kindness and the spirit of compassion in a consumer riot. Has materialism truly become our new religion?

A vase filled with spring tulips
• Readers Write: Georgia Hearn wrote “Once again, I got great pleasure from The Garden Report.” Chris Pasterfield, feeling a little on the petulant side wrote “Pulitzer…pure Pulitzer.” Shelley Kelln totally supports giving a donation at Christmas to The Humane Society as mentioned in #29. Ann Anderson declared “You really are a treasure…” and she didn’t want to borrow money from me either. Denise Mirva wrote “a treasure trove of marvelous memories.” John Ciotucha loved the Christmas photo of Murphy, as did Lynn Goldman, Marg Hryniuk, and Sherri Tutt. Murphy gets more fan mail than I do. Joan Kortje writes “thank you for keeping me entertained every Monday morning.” Roberta Nichol wonders why they are called ‘Chinese Chews’ when they have absolutely nothing to do with China. Maybe she should contact The Department of Cookie Names. Paula Grolle suggested “you should really write a book about growing up in the fifties, sixties and seventies.” That sentence assumed that I ‘grew up’. John Huston writes that December 19th, 1843 was the publication and release date of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ John has been touring that show for seventeen years now. Peggy St. Goddard writes in that the poinsettia care tips in #26 saved one of their plants at Government House. Some of you actually listen to my advice?

• This message arrived from a reader. I pasted it, intact: Merry Christmas Rod. I look forward to another year of wonderful Garden Reports. Thank you for bringing so much to our community and sharing stories that bring a smile to our Sundays. The Garden Report is like a window into the parts of our lives that we sometimes don’t consciously value enough and your stories remind us of how wonderful life can be if we let it. Humor is your philosopher's stone.
All the best in the New Year from Bagel my dog, Emma my cat, Po and Yoco my rescued crows, my various tropical fish......and me, Marsha Kennedy

• Winter Soup: When there is snow on the ground and the wind is howling, nothing tastes better than a bowl of homemade soup. And nothing is easier to make. Really. I was inspired by Triple D to make this one on Wednesday, and it was delicious. It’s called ‘Cheeseburger Soup’. I browned a pound of ground beef along with a medium sized, chopped onion and two good sized carrots, cut into coins. When this was cooked, I added in two cups of tomato juice, four cups of water, a dash of hot sauce, some Worcestershire Sauce, some garlic, some cracked black pepper and I simmered this for an hour. To finish it off, I added in some hot, pickled peppers, some diced up sweet pickles, a squirt of yellow mustard and about four ounces of shredded cheese. After giving this another fifteen minutes to simmer, I chopped up some lettuce and tomatoes and placed them uncooked, into the bottom of a large soup bowl. I then ladled the soup over the two veggies. Served it up with some hummus and pita and it was delicious.

• One upmanship: Every group or subculture has their collection of ‘holier than thou’ members. You can walk into any gardening club, and someone will be holding court, on how they grew something two zones beyond hardiness, seven years ago. As if this proves they are the prima donna gardener. It happens almost everywhere the human species assembles. Nothing is funnier to watch than two health food aficionados engaged in a game of brinkmanship, as to who is more knowledgeable or more ‘pure’. One will start in on the merits of niacin and the second will point out that it is only absorbed by the body if taken in conjunction with Vitamin E, to which the first will counter that the E must be ingested two hours prior in order to ‘metabolize’ the inert compounds, to which the second will return volley with an assertion related to the phases of the moon. Gobbly gook, gobbly gook! A bunch of mumbo jumbo put out by people who have no training in dietary sciences, health sciences or basic chemistry. A bit of jargon picked up from magazines does not make one an expert. But of course, these high priests of health will explain my negative attitude as a lack of wheat grass combined with chemical exposure from eating Campbell’s soup. I don’t eat Campbell’s soup. Too much salt. I didn’t take a course. I read the label.

• Ho, ho, ho!: Around 1982, I was Santa for The Big Brothers’ Party. Returning home, still dressed in costume, I decided to pay a surprise visit to the two children who lived next door. The eight year old girl wasn’t buying it. Nope. She knew who Santa was. But her five year old brother was a true believer. You could see it in his eyes. I asked him to sit on my lap. His name was Liam. He looked at me with all the sincerity he could muster and whispered “Santa…I’ve been good. Very, very good. Don’t listen to my sister. She lies.”

• True Confession: There are several readers of The Garden Report who are members of the clergy. In case they do not realize this, as a small child, I prayed to Santa, God and Jesus, at the same time. I somehow thought that they might be one and the same or at least knew each other. It feels good to get that off my chest.

Tulip Time: I rarely talk in my sleep but…according to my Mrs., when I do, I am usually in the greenhouse. This past week, according to her, I was at it again. Apparently, I was ordering tulips. I was issuing instructions that I wanted doubles, not singles. That makes sense to me.

• Nice people: Drew Millard was over for a Christmas visit. Drew owns a small, landscape maintenance company. He has about thirty clients. That’s all he wants. I have never met anyone who goes out of his way as Drew does, to look after his customers. The man writes the book on customer service and decency. Most of his customers have been with him for years. But every now and again, there is someone who pushes Drew to his limit, not appreciating all that he does. I admire Drew because he simply ‘fires’ them. Sounds odd but he actually ‘lets them go.’

• Stress Reduction: I am not certain if this is a function of age or of a personality shift on my part. There was a time in my life when I would meet conflict head on. If someone was rude to me, I would not only confront them, I would view it almost as an obligation “to straighten them out”. Not anymore. A clerk at a local store was rude to me recently. At one time, I would have argued, reported her to the manager, got on my high horse and let the heavens know of my indignation. It’s just not worth it to me. I have options. I went to another store, where they weren’t rude to me. Problem solved. More often, I am walking away from ignorant people and potentially explosive situations. I give them their ground, their space. People who wish to have conflict with me are no longer welcome in my life. I don’t need the stress. Want to fight about it?

Sharon Wallace's back garden

Motto to Live By: In my twenties, my motto was ‘better to burn out than to rust out.’ Now that I am punching sixty, my motto is ‘never pass up the opportunity to go pee.’ Sigh.

• The Marian Center: I dropped by the soup kitchen/prayer house on Halifax Street, The Marian Center, on the 24th. They are such lovely people there. They have been a part of my life since 1971. We were laughing at when they arrived in 1966 with a mission to feed the poor, they were regarded as ‘radicals, far leftists and on the fringe of lunacy.’ Imagine that! Feeding the poor as a revolutionary act! Now forty-four years later, they are regarded as the ‘right wing’ of the church. They are the same people, doing the same thing, carrying out their mission to feed the hungry and minister to those who require food for the soul.

• Breaking News: Reader Jan Dockham was the first, female editor of The Leader Post in that paper’s 125 year history. Until Jan took over, the job had belonged to ‘the old boy’s club’. Jan has now opted to step down so she can spend more time with her five grandchildren. Maybe she can come to work for The Garden Report? The pay is nonexistent but the letters to the editor are much nicer than at The L-P.

Knox Met: We made it out to The Candlelight Service at Knox Met on Christmas Eve. Wonderful opportunity to share an hour and a half with many of you from the community. The soprano soloist was incredible. The night had a magic to it.

• New Year’s Dance: It has become increasingly difficult to find a place to go dancing on New Year’s Eve. The Dewdney Avenue bar and club scene is hardly our thing, so what to do? The Italian Club is hosting a supper and a dance this Friday. The band is Cornerstone and they are a great dance band. I went out on a limb and thought (hoped) that some of you would like to join us. I bought eight tickets for the night. Tickets are $35 each. If any of our reader friends would like to purchase tickets and join us at our table, send me an email. It should be a good time.

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in sunny Regina

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Garden Report #29

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

• Sleigh bells ring, are you listening: December 19th is not too early to be singing Christmas carols, even by Scrooge’s standards…bah, humbug and all that. It is early Sunday morning. Three a.m. early. Our company from last night’s block party have departed, hours ago, wishing us well. Murphy has had his customary cuddle before settling into his next episode of rest. As a senior cat, he insists on protracted bouts of beauty sleep. Maureen has drifted off to dream of dancing with The National Ballet or is it The Royal Winnipeg tonight? Perhaps she has the prima donna role in The Nutcracker, seeing as it is Christmas. And me? I sit here on the edge of the bed with my laptop balanced precariously, as the dialysis machine whirrs and gurgles and carries out its mission. Except for the hum of this artificial kidney, the house is quiet. There is no noise drifting in from the street. No one is shouting or yelling as happens in the summer time. My ‘Inbox’ lights up. It is Jodi Sadowsky from The Fringe. She often works late into the night when sleep does not come easily. The boiler that keeps our house ever so warm is fairly quiet tonight, with the hot water passing through the pipes in its endless cycle. Is there a Buddhist metaphor within the boiler system as the water moves up and down, back and forth? Do you see what happens when you leave me alone with my thoughts for too long? Now is the time to say goodnight from a writer’s point of view, but as a reader, you may perceive a ‘good day’ instead. After all, you are now up and about…just like the water flowing through the pipes. I knew there had to be a way to tie that one together. Merry Christmas.
Murphy at Christmas (he hates books!)

• Readers Write: Denise Cook writes “…love reading your entertaining stories…always, always get a laugh.” Daniel Redenbach who is a local, young film director and reader of The Garden Report wrote “I am loving The Garden Report and always forward it to my mother.” Kate Berringer reports that she is forwarding this blog to her parents who live in Medicine Hat. Chris Pasterfield writes “Couldn’t agree more with the slovenly dressed folks who fly-absolutely no pride.” Marg Hryniuk wrote “You are like a dog with a bone, but then so am I.” Rex Deverell, who always has a sly wit to his writing, wrote in regarding the inappropriately dressed young woman at the wedding. Rex suggested “Obviously, the grooms ex girlfriend.” Reader Phyllis Ng baked me a cookie tin filled with ‘poppycock’. For the uninitiated, it is popcorn, nuts, corn syrup and other stuff that I am certain is very, very good for you. Almost a health food. If the dietician from the dialysis clinic is reading this, I did not eat any. I gave it all away. If the dietician is not reading this, don’t any of you bother to ask if I will share with you. The answer is ‘NO!’ Cheryl Hutton out of Calgary writes that her Noble Fir Christmas Tree is very fragrant. Susan Rollins reports that in their home, they set up the tree on the 24th of December and remove it on the 6th of January. Susan also comments that having spent many years working in Africa and The Middle East, they value a traditional Christmas more than ever. Donna Banks from Saskatoon, wrote that she enjoyed the CBC story regarding our fireplace on television. Ann Marie Woods of Access Television advises that the our fireplace tape has become so popular, that during the holiday season, they will be running it around the clock on Digital Channel One. Hey, I didn’t even know there was a Channel One. Roberta Nichol’s amaryllis is in bloom and she loves it. She has an ‘Orange Sovereign’.

• Nicky’s Cafe: Hanging out with Nicky and Perry on Monday night. I asked Perry what was the strangest customer experience he has had. He said the one that sticks out was the woman who came up to him at the cash register and refused to pay for her coffee. Why? Because the waitress had refilled her cup and destroyed the perfect balance of cream and sugar she had been enjoying. He told her no problem, there would be no charge.

• Community: If you don’t understand the importance of community service, then you will never understand the nature of community.

• Just a thought: For the last few years, I have been taking money that I would have spent on Christmas gifts and donated it to The Humane Society. Gail over at The Humane Society sends out thank you cards and tax receipts to those I have designated. It’s easy to do. I don’t know if the recipients enjoy the ‘gift’, but I am so tired of materialism. If you participate, your gift will help out a few of our four legged friends this winter. Murphy suggests that you send the money directly to him to support his ‘tuna’ habit.

• Sadly: Doug Killoh passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease this past week. Dough coached many of us on The Rams as well as playing hockey for The Pats and football for The Riders. As the Alzheimer’s Disease took over his body and mind, I felt it was best for Doug if I introduced myself each time we met. That seemed to trigger his memory and then we would talk. The fifth time I introduced myself, Doug stopped me, complaining “I know who you are and why do you keep introducing yourself to me ?” Doug will be missed.

• Garden Tip: Even the pros make mistakes. I got up Monday morning and the poinsettia in our dining room had collapsed (severely drooped). The problem was, we had placed it in a window box directly over a hot water heating tube, which dried it out quite quickly. I didn’t panic. I took the plant to the sink and filled the sink with two inches of water. I let the plant sit in the water for twenty minutes and then I removed it. About four hours later, it was half recovered. The next morning, you could not tell the stress it had undergone. It was just fine.

• Heaven on Earth: Each of us has our own definition of pure bliss. On Wednesday, my good woman baked up some ‘Chinese Chews’. You rarely see those treats anymore though they were popular as far back as The Great Depression. A few ‘fresh from the oven’ samples along with a full bodied coffee and I could not imagine life any finer than this experience.

• Writer’s Block: Sometimes, it is best for us to develop some form of a writer’s block rather than commit our angriest thoughts to paper, and then sign that letter. Several years back, a local school teacher was selling a line of energy efficient light bulbs. He left me his literature and I had my electrician check into the product. The electrician said that due to the special wiring required, I would never recover my initial outlay with the electrical savings. So, I said to the salesman, “no thanks”. He had somehow got it into his head that I should be purchasing his product and he was upset with me. Very upset. He wrote a poison pen letter, attacking me and calling me a number of unkind names. Then he signed it. Big mistake. I was a little miffed, especially with the name calling. I made two hundred copies of his letter and I included it in all of my outgoing mail. I didn’t defend myself or pass comment on his letter. I didn’t feel I needed to as his letter was more a reflection of his character than it was of mine. The responses were hilarious. ‘Act in haste, repent at leisure.’

• History Buffs: Since I was a small child, I have been a history buff. Don’t know why. Just me. While in both elementary and high school, I heard from other students that history is nothing more than a bunch of dates. Let me set the record straight in 2010, for those of you keeping track, dates are only important to us history buffs to keep the narrative straight. Dates are the ‘book marks’ of history. You can’t have Napoleon trying to sell a condo to Oliver Cromwell. The math ‘just don’t work’.

• Living History: There is so much living history around us. Our neighbor until he died, J. Lorne MacDougall, was a lawyer. J. Lorne told me that as a young, articling student, his mentor had been part of Louis Riel’s defense team at the 1885 trial. My favorite university professor, Anatol Murad, told me that as a young boy at the turn of the 1900’s, he remembered being bounced on his great uncle’s knee. His uncle had served in the cavalry during The Crimean War of 1856. Around 1912, The Grand Trunk Railway decided to build a grand hotel where The Royal Saskatchewan Museum now stands. The piles were drilled and the structural iron was installed. Then World War One started and construction ground to a halt, never to resume. The structural iron stayed that way until it was dismantled around 1927 and used in the construction of the brand new Hotel Saskatchewan. Not all of the iron beams made it over to the hotel. Two were spirited away and installed in the building of a new home at 2635 Regina Avenue. The new home belonged to the provincial architect at the time. That home is now our home and the beams are still here. Links to history.

• Two sides: There are two sides to every conversation. What is spoken and what is heard. When organic products were in their infancy, I wanted to be on the leading edge. So I was selling all sorts of stuff that had a ‘green’ lineage. One of those items was fish fertilizer. One day I received a telephone call from some activist wanting to ensure I was being socially responsible. They do that sort of thing. He asked me if my fish fertilizer was “from whales”. Being a history and geography nut, I heard the question as being is your fish fertilizer “from Wales” to which I responded “no, it is from Alaska.” He was quite irritated with my response, but eventually we got it sorted out. It wasn’t from whales or Wales.

• What I heard: Along the same lines of similar sounds, my friend booked a package trip to Hawaii in the 1970’s. She was telling me the little things that were included, including a free ‘lei’ upon arrival. At the time, I had no idea that a lei was a flower garland. Needless to write but I will anyways, I heard another interpretation of the word ‘lei’. So I cracked wise. “Do the men get one or just the women?” She assured me that everyone got a ‘free lei’. I carried on. “So, do they give it to you on the tarmac or do they at least wait until you arrive at your hotel ?” “The moment you step off the plane, you get it. They line you up on the tarmac for the ceremony.” I thought, Hawaii must be the friendliest place on earth.

• Still with the crossed signals: My school mate Debbie Cameron (nee Kerwin) was driving to the garden center with her girlfriend. Debbie loved Lakeview Gardens and told her girlfriend who had never been, that everyone at Lakeview was very friendly. Debbie and her friend arrived and I greeted them at the front gate. As Debbie and I have been friends since we were fifteen, I gave her a hug. After hugging Debbie, I turned to her girlfriend and jokingly said “Your turn”. Her girlfriend embraced me, but in quite a wooden fashion. As the two of them walked down the path towards the greenhouse, the girlfriend turned to Debbie and said “Boy, you weren’t kidding when you said they were friendly here.” Debbie had neglected to inform her friend of our long standing friendship and the girlfriend assumed that someone stood at the front gate, giving customers a hug, all day long. Much more intimate than the Wal-Mart greeter, don’t you think?

• Statistics don’t lie: One Sunday morning around 6:30 a.m. in July, I was unloading a truck that was in transit to Winnipeg. The driver just couldn’t wait until we opened to get our delivery off. Out for an early morning walk was everyone’s friend, Nicky Makris. Nicky is chatting away to me as the sweat rolled off of my brow. He told me that if I lost some weight, my sex life would improve by thirty per cent! So I asked our Greek friend, “by thirty per cent, are you referring to quantity or to quality?” Nicky appeared confused by my question. So I carried on. “And if I were the lose even more weight, do you think my sex life would improve by forty per cent or does the law of diminishing returns kick in?” Nicky was now perplexed. So I asked “And if I only lost a little bit of weight, such as five pounds, would my sex life improve to the point where my wife would notice or would the improvement be something that only I would appreciate?” Pondering these three questions, Nicky left the scene, muttering away to himself. I continued to unload the truck, having met my quota for irritating others. I just knew it was going to be a very, good day.

• A decent man: Reader Marg Hryniuk wrote in to say that she enjoys reading stories about good people. And my response was that I enjoy writing them. Many years ago, I had a visit from the sales manager of Redi Mix. He knew that I purchased my bricks and concrete from Jerry Tell over at Cindercrete. He said “my price is as good as Jerry’s, my service matches his and my quality is equal, so why do you never order from me?” A good question deserved a good explanation. In 1977, when I was a young man starting out in the trade, I stopped at Cindercrete, to check out their products. The first thing that Jerry did was to shake my hand. Then he got me a cup of coffee. Then he pulled out a credit application and told me that he would approve me for a thousand dollars to start. He did not know who I was, at the time. He treated me as an important person when I was new and not all that important, and that is why I remained a loyal customer for thirty years. Jerry treated everyone as if they were important. People wanted to do business with him. Nice guys do finish first.

• Regina Avenue rocks: Every year, the last Saturday before Christmas, there is a block party for the Regina Avenue neighbors. This year, it was our turn to host. It was a pot luck supper with ham and cabbage rolls. The dessert table was full enough to promote Hyperactive Attention Deficit Syndrome for another year. Great neighbors and great food. It doesn’t get much better. One of the many reasons we love living in this community. The neighbors, all readers of this blog, asked if they would be mentioned. I assured them “absolutely not.”

• Merry Christmas from Rod McDonald in Regina
The Garden Report #28

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

• Canadiana: We were on our way to Government House yesterday. The Dickens’ Singers were presenting their tenth annual Christmas concert which is always first rate. Following the concert, the women of Government House serve up a decent cup of brewed tea along with plates filled with home baked goodies. It is a wonderful part of Christmas for many of us. As we were driving there, we had to cross the four way stop at Regina Avenue and Pasqua Street. Another vehicle arrived at the same time as we did. Being a good Canadian, I waved the other driver through the intersection. After all, he might have been there slightly ahead of me. No. He would not drive through. He waved me through. I waved him though again and he repeated his motion, that I should be the first to cross. So I did, waving my appropriate thank you as I did so. We were laughing quite heartily over this classic Canadian interaction. Almost a one upmanship to determine who was more polite. In another culture, this would not have been the case. It was one of those innocuous events that allow me to enjoy being a Canadian, even if we laugh at ourselves in the process.

• Readers write: Chris Pasterfield denies that it was his bum that was on display in the photos of #26. Many of you wrote in sharing wonderful memories of The Rotary Carol Festival. Thank you. Sherrie Tutt writes “Love your blog. Always learn something.” But then goes on to deny that her book club is a front for an eating cult. Reader Rhonda Rein has signed her mother up for The Garden Report. Now that is an inexpensive Christmas gift. Leanne Mann wrote: “I’m thoroughly enjoying your Garden Report. Very entertaining!” Reader Kim Lytle out of Saskatoon asked for a recommendation as to good poinsettias in her city. I have found good plants at Cory Park on the south side of the city. Reader and actor Marcus Fernando has a Christmas gig in an ‘Aladdin’ show in London, England. Always pleased to know the actor/readers are eating. Sharon Nowlan who is also an actor/reader, residing in Toronto, writes that she will have a new show out this summer with a run in New York, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Sharon also writes that she enjoys The Garden Report as it keeps her up to date with things ‘back home’. June Blau wrote “Thanks for writing.” Heather Lowe from Zehner weighed in with “Another good read.” Reader Cheryl Ann Smith is heading up a prayer house in England these days. Some readers will remember when Cheryl Ann was the major domo of The Marian Center in Regina. Cheryl Ann writes that England has been shut down with the snow. They just don’t have the equipment to handle it. Reader and Fine Arts classmate from ’69, Wendy Richardson (nee Campbell) wrote “You really are funny…” and I trust she is not referring to my photograph. Producer and director Ian Ferguson was in town just for one night this week and stayed with us. Ian suggested that as many Fringe performers have stayed in the guest room over the years, that they should start signing the wall. That is the exact behavior that got our kids grounded when they were six Ian, writing on the walls. Ian’s wife, Karen Van Ritzen, a very funny comic, is performing in Victoria this month. Karen wrote “Enjoying your Garden Report as always.” Jodi Sadowsky was over for a visit. Jodi tells me that The Regina Fringe Festival lineup is close to being filled for the July 6th to 10th time slot. There are some big names from the tour coming to Regina this year, which is a good thing.

Rod and his geraniums

• Garden Tip: Les Vanderveen, who has grown millions of poinsettias in his greenhouse, called to disagree with keeping poinsettias dry. Les reports that people who run their points too dry, usually lose many leaves on the plant. He suggests that you keep your plant neither over nor under watered. You should be like Goldilocks and water it “just right.”

• Trivial Pursuit: Those of you who have Access as your cable provider can watch a fireplace, complete with birch logs burning, every night. The fireplace is on Channel Seven. If it should ever come up in a trivia contest, the fireplace is located at our house. Five years ago, Kevin Foote from Access arrived with camera in hand and started filming as I lit the fire. Periodically, you will notice a hand tossing another log onto the fire. That is my hand! And to think some of you said those acting classes would never pay off.

• Winter soup: There is absolutely nothing that tastes better than a steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day. One problem: Most canned soups and mixes contain enough salt to either sink or to float a battleship, depending on which way you want this metaphor to go. Problem solved: Make your own soup with little or no salt. On Tuesday, I whipped up a quick batch of tomato soup that was tastier than Campbell’s and better for you. I took one can of unsalted plum tomatoes, added in an equal amount of low fat milk, a pinch of garlic powder, some cracked black pepper, a pinch of cloves, and some fresh ground coriander seed. I blended everything in the blender and then I poured it into a soup pan. I cooked it on a very low heat for a couple of hours, never allowing it to boil. It was delicious. If it gets too thick as it reduces down, either add in some more milk or water and continue to cook. For a different taste, you can add in the juice from a fresh squeezed orange. That is something I learned from Mieka Weins many years ago.

• Garden Tip: If you have not already done so, take some of that snow in your yard and pile it around your more tender perennials and roses. Nothing insulates better than a pile of snow.

• Garden Tip: If you use a deicer around your garden, best to use one that is not high in salts of any kind. Salt is very toxic to plants as it raises the ph level of the soil.

• Garden Tip: Basic ph lesson. Seven is neutral. Above seven is considered salty soil or alkaline. Below seven is considered sweet soil. Regina has slightly alkaline soil measuring around 7.3. Many plants prefer a slightly acidic soil of 6.5. This is one of the reasons good gardeners use lots and lots of peat moss. Peat moss is usually under six on the scale, so it helps to lower soil salinity. Is there a test at the end?

• Conversion Experience: In 1982, I attended Olds College in Alberta for a week, to obtain my applicators license in order to work with chemicals. The class had two horticultural students and sixty farmers in it. The class was taught in metric, which was pretty new at the time. The other ‘hort’ boy and I had converted and we had no problem but the farm boys struggled the entire week. They wanted to know “how much chemical do I pour into my tank and mix with water.” They did not want the 10ml. of chemical to each liter of water, applied at a rate of 6.5 liters per hectare. Nope. That was not what they wanted to hear. It was a real struggle. I suspect, that was the origin of the organic farming movement, right there.

• Garden Tip: Several readers have written in to share with me how they have destroyed their poinsettias in record time, this season. My newest and best advice for each and every one of you has now been changed to: Enjoy your plant until you kill it.

Maureen and Miss Poofy Duvet (Courtney Cunningham)
• It’s Canada: A few years back, we were in Vancouver for St. Patrick’s Day. They had a big parade downtown. Marching in the parade was a Pipe Band. My people! The Scots just love a parade and I am certain the band would show up for an Indian Pow Wow or a Swedish wedding if asked, especially if free beer was involved. As the pipers passed by in their full kit of tartan, sporran and kilt, we could not help but to notice that seven of the pipers were Sikhs with turbans and five were of Chinese descent. What can I say? Everyone wants to be a Scot, even on St. Patrick’s Day.

• Marian Center: My friends from The Madonna Apostolate have run a soup kitchen in downtown Regina since 1966. They serve the poor. I have been connected with them since I was a student in 1971. Daniel, one of the men who used to serve there said it best: “Our true mandate is to love those who cannot love themselves. We only use food as the lure, so we can carry out our mandate.” It took me many years to arrive at the point where I fully understood the wisdom of what he said.

• Old School: Frank Mario emigrated from Italy many years ago and resided in our neighborhood. He was a wonderful man and a true character, which most Italians seem to be. Frank phoned me up one day and made an ‘appointment’ to visit at two o’clock the next afternoon. He arrived for his appointment wearing a suit, tie and shined shoes. He wanted to buy a plum tree from me. That was it. He got dressed up just for that.

• Still Old School: Watching an old episode of Law and Order when ‘Lenny’ was the lead detective. Lenny comments on how slovenly and casual we dress today by referencing “I can remember when we used to get dressed up just to phone long distance to my uncle in Albany.” Too funny. I can remember how we would phone my grandfather in Nova Scotia every New Year’s Day as a little boy. We were required to put on our Sunday best for the phone call. My mother would say “now go comb your hair and straighten your tie. You want to look your finest for your grandfather.”

• Old School Training Needed: My sister Bonnie and I were at a cousin’s wedding a few years back. We both got dressed up for the ceremony because that is what you do, right? In walks this twenty something. She has on a pair of tight blue jeans, a t shirt that does not cover her ample tummy and her rather large bosom has overflowed the low cut top. To finish off the scenario, she was chewing gum in a rather bovine fashion. I turned to my sister and said “and to think I polished my shoes before I left the house.” Now, I am the first to admit that I will never be profiled in GQ Magazine for my sartorial splendor. But there is a major difference between proper attire and being a slob!

• I’m a dog with a bone: What is no more than sheer laziness and at times ignorance and disrespect is now passed off as being ‘casual and comfortable.’ I am at the airport. A sixteen year old arrives dressed in sweat pants and a baggy shirt. She looks rough, even for the gym. Her mother chastises her for her choice in clothing. The girl responds that she wants to be “comfortable for the plane ride.” For crying out loud. It’s a one hour flight to Calgary! She’s not spending a week in the cargo hold of a tramp steamer. Give me Frank Mario’s courteous approach to the world any day. The universe does not decide who is a slob…you have to go out of your way to demonstrate that you are one. To get in my final licks, men with tummies who wear sweat pants with fanny packs hanging to the front, filled with their change and cigarettes, should be confined to Tim Horton’s. They should not be allowed in grocery stores or in other public areas where small children and seeing eye dogs can be easily frightened.

• Perfect Neurosis: Once you realize that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect Christmas’, then you can relax and enjoy the season. Who decided that we had to have the perfect tree with the perfect decorations and the perfect food served while wearing the perfect outfit with the perfect smile. Who decided that we had to wage war at the mall to find the perfect gift? Was it Chatelaine? Martha Stewart? Better Housekeeping? I want names! Better yet, being a real Canadian, as opposed to those fake ones out there, we should have a Royal Commission. One hundred and forty eight lawyers working on the investigation for three years, compiling a report of at least twelve hundred and forty three pages that no one will ever, ever read, at a cost of thirty-seven million dollars. Now that would be perfect. Well, at least it would be Canadian.

• Close: My friend Giselle was German and she struggled with English idioms and expressions. One day she told me to meet her and another fellow at three o’clock because “I want to kill one fly with two bricks.” Somehow, I knew what she meant….but I still reached out to assist. “That’s two birds with one stone, Giselle,” I said. Exasperated by the nuance, she exclaimed in frustration “English!”

• Mentors: My beloved mentor Dieter Martin, was recognized by the nursery trade as being one of the best in the business…but he rarely let ‘outsiders’ see just how smart he was. One day in 1995, Dieter and I were out for a walk in Victoria, B.C. We strolled passed The Lieutenant Governor’s Residence where an elderly volunteer was tending to the garden. Dieter, ever the gregarious sort, asked the volunteer gardener what he was planting. The man stopped what he was doing and explained that he was planting sedum and then went on to explain to Dieter and I the importance of gardening and some of the ‘secrets’. Of course, the fellow had no idea that he had just presented a ten minute seminar to one of the top horticulturalists in Canada. Dieter nodded appropriately, never interjecting into the conversation. We continued on our walk. Bursting with curiosity, I blurted out “What the hell was that all about?” Dieter’s response was simple: “The man had a story to tell and I let him tell it.”

• Christmas Theater: The Globe has an absolutely stunning production of ‘Honk’ on right now. Is it a great show for kids and adults. When you go, make sure you cheer for the cat. Nothing makes for a better show than a dastardly villain and this one tap dances, too!

• Garden Tip: Poinsettias looked their finest when displayed on a lower table or even the floor. Poinsettias set on a regular table rarely look as good as those set down lower. Never display your poinsettia close to a heating vent or a drafty window or door.

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in Regina

The Garden Report #27

The Garden Report #27

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

• This moment in time: It is another Sunday afternoon. The house is quiet. Maureen is off at her book club lunch. They consist of a group of women from the neighborhood, who offer up the rationalization that they meet because they read. In reality, they gather because they eat. I am not certain any books ever get discussed, but recipes are exchanged and food is consumed. I tell them they should be honest and call themselves ‘The Good Eaters Club.’ They don’t think I am very funny. Murphy is also quiet. He is sitting on the arm of the big chair that I am composing from. He wants to walk across the keyboard, but that is not allowed, so he sits and meditates. There is an abundance of white snow on the garden and in the trees. All of my perennials are hidden from view, my tulips are indeed ‘sleeping beauties’ and the squirrels are absent from their play. The only sound that enters is that of the furnace and occasionally, a jet as it leaves the airport. The winter sun is low in the southern sky. It shines through. It does its job. There are many things for me to do but for the next few minutes, I will enjoy the sound of nothing. The rest can wait.

• Readers Write: Roberta Nichol is grateful for the neighbor who blows out her garage entry each time it snows. That is one of the benefits of living in Lakeview, wonderful neighbors. Niece Joana Cook (Ian and Denise’s daughter) is having the time of her life studying at King’s College in London, England. She has been meeting some fascinating people from the world of politics while in London. Georgia Hearn wrote: “Loved this week’s report (#26)…everyone waits for it.” Readers Jeanie Freeman and John Huston both weighed in on my criticism of people and stores who abbreviate Christmas to X-Mas. They pointed out that ‘X’ was used by the Christians of the 1500’s as a mark of reference for Christ. Well, now that I have been corrected, let me say that if I ever open up a Christmas store in 1518 or any time around that mark, I will definitely acknowledge political correctness and call it Rod’s X-Mas Store. In #26, I included a photo of a naked man scuba diving in the snow. Reader Lyn Goldman asks “Is that you in the scuba gear?” Well, don’t tell anyone Lyn, but it is actually reader Chris Pasterfield. My buns are much firmer than the ones in the photo. Reader Gayle White from Winnipeg has sent along the photo of the kitty in the attachment. Reader Bonnie Jackson (she used to be Bonnie McDonald in the good old days) wrote “One of my absolute favorite stories (Mom and The Riders)”. Marg Hryniuk wrote that she likes to read positive stories about young people. Well, I like to write them. Gail and Ted Bowen are home this week after their gig in Calgary. Gail writes that they loved Calgary but it is also great to be back in Regina and Lakeview.
Annoyed RoughRider Fan

• Garden Tip: When your amaryllis takes off, there is always a danger that when it reaches a certain height, it will topple over. Rather than stake the stalk and the flower, I find it best to insert my growing pot into a taller, wicker basket. The wicker basket provides the support for the amaryllis to lean against and still allows the bloom to emerge above. Wicker baskets can be obtained at many stores. I often find something in the neighborhood at Gales on 13th.

• Garden Tip: Readers have verified my garden tip from last week. Overwatering a poinsettia creates the same symptoms as under watering. Best to water a poinsettia by placing it into the sink, minus the decorative cover. Fill the sink with two inches of water. Let the poinsettia wick up the needed water through the holes in the bottom of the pot for twenty minutes.

• Garden Tip: My Gardening for the Prairies just arrived. It is a wonderful magazine. A gift for yourself or for a gardening friend.

• Garden Tip: If you are going to have real greens inside of your home to decorate for Christmas, remember that they only remain fresh for three to seven days. White Pine greens last the longest but they have little fragrance. Cedar has a lovely smell as do Balsam and Fraser greens. Real wreaths are always enjoyable but if you bring them in doors, do so just the day before the party or when you wish to view them.

• Garden Tip: While decorating for Christmas, red stemmed dogwood branches are of great use. They provide a wonderful contrast with the cedar and pine greens. Red Dogwoods are everywhere in the city, so there is no need to buy them. Of course, always ask permission if they are not your dogwoods.

• Garden Tip: In my travels, I have inspected the poinsettias offered up for sale at the grocery stores and in the box stores. I cannot help myself. I have to look. Sadly, there are many, many poor quality plants in the market place. The race to the bottom of the price barrel has lowered the bar for a quality plant. Those places that are flogging $4.99 poinsettias, are selling plants that have been grown so close together to maximize space that they have little structural strength. If that is acceptable to you, there are many choices available.

• The start of Christmas: We all have our triggers that alert us to the beginning of Christmas. For some of us, it is a sound, a smell or something to eat. For me, Christmas begins with The Rotary Carol Festival that has been operating for seventy years at Knox Metropolitan Church, downtown. I was there in the first grade, with Miss Patterson’s class of 1957. My hair had enough Brylcream in it to lube a battleship and I was wearing a red sweater over a white shirt with a black bow tie. I was under clear instructions from my mother to do nothing that would bring shame onto the family. After all of these years, it is still the start of The Christmas season for me.

• An incredible choir: I listen to all of these wonderful choirs every year at Knox and I enjoy each and every one of them. Having written that, The Luther College High School Choir has stood out every year and this Festival was no different. Their choral singing is well rehearsed and they take on the challenge of complicated arrangements that most choirs could not handle. I don’t’ have any contact with the school so if some reader wishes to pass along my accolades, please feel free to do so.

• War Horses: There was a time when CKCK Radio and Television ruled the airwaves across this province. Two of the broadcasters from the glory days of CKCK are still on the air. Doug Alexander who started with CKCK Radio around 1957, as the ‘teen jock’, was on air for The Rotary Carol Festival, and his voice still commands your attention. Lorne Harrasen produced an incredible show for Access Seven on the hundred year anniversary of The Roughriders. It makes my heart glad to see those two, after fifty some years in the trade, still punching out the shows.

• Storytellers: Have you ever heard Morley Gusway tell a story? Morley can make an hour feel like twenty minutes and he will have you laughing one moment and crying the next. He is very gifted. Bob Hughes wrote that our own Bill Hicke was one of the finest storytellers God created. Bob wrote that he would get on the bus for a Pat’s game in Brandon. Billy owned The Pat’s at the time. Billy would start telling a story and hold everyone’s attention until it was time to get off the bus…and four hours had elapsed. He made road trips enjoyable.

• Happy Hanukah!: It’s time to wish our Jewish readers and friends well for their celebration.

• Old School Service: I was chatting earlier this week with Colin Perkowitsch from Colin O’Brian’s Men’s Wear on Hamilton Street. Colin is one of the newer converts to old school service. There is nothing that he would not do to make a customer happy. I asked where he had learned such a good habit and attitude. He told me that his father owned a grocery store in a small town. Colin’s first job was delivering groceries to the townspeople. He learned the value of service and he transferred that into his clothing business. Colin believes that old school service is starting to make a comeback, after many years of it being removed from the business equation.

• That was good!: Had a lemon tart from Koko La Patisserie on Broad on Wednesday evening. I even shared it with a certain someone, kind man that I am. The tart is filled with a sweet and sour taste and the intoxicating aroma of real lemons is all over this baby.

• American Opinion: So, according to the leaked papers that have been in the press this week, the American diplomats and bureaucrats do not think highly of Canadian courts, politicians and television. I just know the readers of this blog are going to lose a lot of sleep over their concerns, just as I have. Perhaps in an act of retribution, they will deport Celine Dion, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. That would show us.

• Health Care 101: Saskatchewan had a solid reputation with its transplant clinic in Saskatoon. They did some fine surgery and looked after the patients. It has been closed for a year and a half now, frustrating the staff and the patients. Why is it closed? Did they run out of patients? Did the surgeons forget how to do the job? The Provincial Government says that they are working to resolve the issue, but the clinic still remains closed. There are 115 of us in a holding pattern, waiting and wanting to get better. Getting the clinic open again would be a lovely Christmas present for many families, including mine.

• Thirty days has Movember: Well, the month of moustaches has come and gone but mine remains affixed. I had to shave it off five years ago to play the part of John Diefenbaker in a historical reenactment. How I suffered for my art, and a five hundred dollar gig. Never again, I say. If the role is reprised, Diefenbaker will have a moustache and he will be proud of it. Ahem… “My fellow Canadians…”

• Driving: I know that the readers of The Garden Report would never, ever drink and drive. And if you should see someone who is inclined to do so, tell them that you know this dude with a moustache who will bawl them out (and then call the police).

• Being Six: The Dad’s Cookie Factory used to be next door to our house on Dewdney Avenue in the 1950’s, before they moved out to White City. One very, hot summer day, the delivery truck left the back door of the factory, hit a bump in the alley, and a case of Goodie Rings fell off the vehicle. My two buddies and I saw this happen. We regarded it as a modern day miracle, believing that God does indeed answer prayers. We took the case of Goodie Rings, which contained twenty-four boxes of cookies, into our garage and we proceeded to each, eat one box. We finished the box and being six, we threw up, never eating another Goodie Ring for a very long time.

• Honeymoon Heaven: My nephew, Daniel Jackson was over for a grand visit on Saturday. Daniel and his new bride have just returned from their honeymoon across Europe. I asked him “what was the best part of the honeymoon?” He started to laugh, surprised that Uncle Rod had forgotten what it was like to be in his twenties. I quickly corrected myself by adding “I mean, geographically, what was the best part?” Daniel informs me and thus the readers, that Greece was the best country to visit. He said the climate, the scenery, the history, the food and most importantly, he said that the people everywhere in Greece were welcoming hosts and could not do enough to make their stay enjoyable. I asked what was the worst experience of their trip and he said “Hands down, Paris.” Daniel said it may be a cultural stereotype to refer to Parisians as being rude, but it is a well earned stereotype. He said that asking a waiter for a glass of water is greeted with irritation. And the rudeness exists across ‘The City of Light’. I have heard this before. I have also heard that in the French countryside, one is treated with more hospitality.

• Thanks for reading….Rod McDonald in sunny and snowy Regina!